Congress helps ranchers, too

  Congress isn't just looking out for the timber industry. In an uncontested voice vote, the Senate approved an amendment to its budget recision bill requiring the Forest Service to reissue grazing permits to ranchers "notwithstanding any other law ..." Such legal "sufficiency" language would prevent citizens from challenging permits, even where land has been degraded in violation of federal laws such as the Clean Water Act. Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., offered the amendment after being lobbied by ranchers with soon-to-expire permits on the Black Hills National Forest. They fear the Forest Service might kick their cows off the forest if the agency fails to complete environmental analyses for their permits by the end of the year, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Nationwide, the agency must complete analyses for 4,300 permits by Dec. 31, 1995 (HCN, 1/23/95). In March, Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas told a congressional subcommittee that he "would be delighted" to have Congress exempt permits from NEPA. In an angry letter to Thomas, 13 environmental groups from the West criticized his invitation to Congress as "poor science, poor law, and poor policy."

* Paul Larmer

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